Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Free Agent Needs Need Needy

The Minnesota Vikings entered the 2007 free agency period in need of two or three wide receivers, a quarterback--backup or starting, a defensive end, a right offensive tackle, a right offensive guard, a backup linebacker, and a backup safety. The Vikings quickly added to their list of needs at receiving tight end when they released tight end Jermaine Wiggins.

In the weeks that have followed the beginning of the 2007 free agency period, Minnesota has addressed its team needs by signing a number three wide receiver Bobby Wade, blocking tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, and a special teams player with aspirations of playing middle linebacker, Vinny Ciurciu.

Despite a near complete lack of competition for any of the three agents that they have signed to date, the Vikings paid between $10-11 million in guaranteed signing bonuses to secure the rights to the trio. The bulk of that went to Shiancoe, making him the one player that must produce for cap purposes. That might seem like a safe bet to most Vikings' fans, but one has to wonder whether there were and/or are better options.

What's Left

With most of their 2006 holes still vacant as the first round of free agency nears an end, the Vikings remain in position to add some players. Unfortunately, the best of the remaining players play positions that the Vikings either have filled or appear uninterested in addressing any further.

At defensive end, the Vikings still have some options in free agency, and options that might be better than their initial target, Patrick Kerney. Last week, Seattle cut defensive end Grant Wistrom, just two years after signing him to a big free-agent contract that left most wondering if they had overspent. Seattle signed Wistrom just as Minnesota appeared on the verge of inking him to a deal. Though Wistrom's numbers are not glowing, his five sacks in 2006 are five more than Vikings' starting defensive end Kenechi Udeze had last season. If the price is right, Wistrom could be a worthwhile addition.

A more enticing free agent defensive end is Cincinnati Bengal Justin Smith, who completed the 2006 season with 7.5 sacks and 87 tackles--an astounding number for a defensive end. Unfortunately, Smith probably will not be going anywhere this year as the Bengals have franchised him. That could be good news for Minnesota in next year's free agency, but, barring a trade, it does little for them this year.

The options are even more dire at receiver, though there are players available who look a bit more attractive than the players currently under contract in Minnesota. The two most notable players are Dallas Cowboy free agent Patrick Crayton (36/516/14.3/4) and Kansas City Chief free agent Samie Parker (41/561/13.7/1). Crayton is an unrestricted free agent while Parker is a restricted free agent. They don't look great, but they should be cheap and they both are young.

The fact that Todd Steussie re-signed with the Rams tells you what you need to know about the free agent market for tackles. Despite their need for a right tackle, the Vikings will either have to find someone in the draft, wait for June 1st cuts and hope to uncover someone else's luxury, or go with Marcus Johnson. The odds suggest Johnson gets another opportunity, whether he deserves it or not.

At guard, the Vikings have a position that they should be able to address through free agency. Why the team has not yet done so is anyone's guess. Among the available free agent guards are 2006 Pro-Bowler Ruben Brown, an unrestricted free agent, Ross Verba, Adam Timmerman, and Chris Villarrial, along with three former Vikings, one current Viking, and one former Viking who somebody, for some reason, wanted. Timmerman and Villarrial are getting a bit long in the tooth and might be too slow for the system that Childress' runs in Minnesota, but they would provide stability at a position that has long lacked such a guiding force.

Bottom Line

If you thought the free agent market was grim three weeks ago, it's worse now. But that doesn't mean it's hopeless. It just means that teams like Minnesota will have to do a bit of due diligence. Last year, the Vikings added Ben Leber, Chester Taylor, and Dwight Smith in a free agent market with much more talent. This year, some talent remains that can fill one or two of the numerous holes remaining on the Vikings' roster. Whether that happens largely will be a function of the team's commitment to improving.

Up Next: Draft Talk. Many options.

5 comments:

Lichty said...

Childress seems only to like former Eagles or Wisconsin Badgers, thinning his pool even more.

shimrod said...

It appears the Vikes are preparing for the draft by ensuring they can select the best player available and draft for need without requiring any tough decisions. Anywhere you look across the lineup, there's a hole. Why then, do I suspect they'll still screw it up?

Vikes Geek said...

Lichty,

The problem is that Childress also suffers from myopia. Every time he has any success, and I'll grant that that sample is fairly limited, he assumes it is because of the move that he made. Ergo, when the offensive line, in the rarest of games, does not give up a sack, he ascribes that success to re-working Bryant McKinnie's contract, bringing in Artis Hicks, and sticking with Marcus Johnson, rather than seeing that the tight end, back, and other two linemen picked up the slack of the other three linemen against a putrid pass rush. If you always see what you want to see you'll never recognize your short-comings. And Childress tends to see what he wants to see. Everyone else is wrong. That probably means more fomer Eagles and Badgers on our horizon--at least until the rejects from each of those teams runs out.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Shimrod,

You said it. If the Vikings wanted to give themselves the best opportunity to draft for need, they have done so under Childress. There are holes everywhere on this team. As you suggest, however, just because the team has needs virtually everywhere does not mean that they will fill those needs on draft day.

Last year's draft looks reasonably good with what appear to be legitimate starters in Greenway and Griffin and a nice late-round addition in Greg Blue. Clearly, the jury is still out on Jackson and Cook, but three good players and two possibly good players is a pretty good result in the NFL draft, particularly given the Vikings' recent history.

The concern this year, however, is that the Vikings appear not to know what they want to do with the number seven pick--keep, trade up, or trade down? And it's getting a bit late in the day to be so indecisive.

I expect the Vikings to make a solid pick in round one and early in round two on draft day. I'll discuss that more in the next column.

VG

Lichty said...

The concern this year, however, is that the Vikings appear not to know what they want to do with the number seven pick--keep, trade up, or trade down? And it's getting a bit late in the day to be so indecisive.

Unless you have some inside information, I disgree that we can read into the appearances right now. Even drafting teams do not like to telegraph what they are thinking leading up to draft day. I expect that the Vikings do have a plan, although the quality of the plan remains to be seen.